They grew up in Lincoln, two sisters sandwiched between a trio of brothers.
First Amy and, two years later, Ann.
When the family would go out in public, their parents would give those kids a reminder before they jumped out of the car: Remember, you’re a Tidball!
Linda and John Tidball’s daughters have gray in their hair now. Amy Bidrman is 49, Ann Kaseman is 47. They’re both married with two kids each. Amy lives in Calgary, Alberta. Ann in a stone house on a shady street in Lincoln.
They help take care of their mom.
For nearly a year, they’ve been writing about that journey in small pieces. Creating and sharing booklets with the same title: “In It. A conscious zine for Alzheimer’s caregivers.”
This zine found its way into your hands because you are caring for a loved one … We started this zine because we realized that the way we interact with the loved ones in our care can trigger feelings of connection, joy, frustration, love, anger, guilt. …
Each zine is printed on a different color of paper, orange, green, yellow, gold. Ann’s daughter, Grace, decorates the pages with geometric doodles — flowers and circles and hearts. Ann collates. Amy sits at her mom’s sewing machine and binds the pages with thread.
Both sisters write.
They tell stories. Funny ones and sad ones. They include a book review pertinent to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Ann always shares a recipe. Amy always offers an exercise in self-care.
They invite readers to share their stories, too.
A hundred people subscribe and the sisters mail them away, free of charge. (Donations have kept them afloat so far and they don’t waste time worrying about copying and postage costs.)
It’s been seven years since Linda Tidball was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She’d raised her five kids and had a successful career in real estate, most of those years with John as her partner.
She did the talking. He did the measuring.
Then she started forgetting.
“It was like, ‘Did Mom drink too much wine?’” Ann says. “Why didn’t she remember that?”
Those puzzling moments kept happening with too much regularity to be a fluke.
Linda was 65 when an MRI showed the holes Alzheimer’s was carving in her brain. Moderate brain degeneration, the doctor said.
She never talked about it.
But right away, the Tidball siblings did. They started an email conversation and five-way phone calls, sharing strategies and worries and ideas.
In 2016, Amy and her husband left their home in Calgary and moved in with her parents.
The sisters devoted themselves to taking care of the woman who’d taken care of them.
“Boys are great,” Ann said of her brothers. “But sometimes you need a daughter nearby.”
And the daughters needed an outlet for processing and sharing their feelings. Amy is a yoga instructor; Ann is a yoga devotee. They believe in using life’s experiences to grow. (They also believe in humor, healthy food, exercise and an occasional craft beer).
As they looked after their mom — and supported their father — they read about the disease.
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They devoured “Your Name is Hughes Hannibal Shanks,” a caregiving guide written by Lincoln activist Lela Shanks after her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“I think that inspired us the most,” Ann says. “And I think we just wanted to put our voices into the movement.”
So they considered a book of their own. Or a podcast.
“One day, I just found some sheets of paper and I had this flash, ‘We need to do something,’” Amy says. “Something we can do right now.”
They thought about the creative kids in high school — the punk rockers and the skateboarders — and the handmade zines they wrote.
They could do that.
They started writing, pasting in photos with a glue stick, then heading to the copy store.
They started an Instagram account as an online adjunct — @alzheimerszine — and they shared on Facebook, too.
People responded. Friends and friends of friends, a slowly expanding ripple, taking in the tenderness and honesty, the gentle way of looking at their mother and her disease.
“Thank you so much for sharing this,” a follower wrote. “For the example of patience and love, and how to hold the wheel while on a curving road in the rain at night.”
The back and forth goes on.
“As much as it helps people reading the zine feel like they have a community, we have a community, too,” Ann says.
It took them beyond the small sphere of caring for their own mother into a world inhabited by 16 million caregivers.
And they don’t shy away from the messy parts of the disease. Or the messy feelings.
“This stuff is hard,” Ann wrote in Issue 5. “I don’t want this zine to ever sugarcoat that, or to make anyone feel less than, or like your caregiving abilities aren’t quite cutting it. We are all good. We all fail.”
Growing up, their mom was no nonsense, the sisters said last week. A mom who would remind them — Don’t wear out your welcome — when they’d go to a friend’s house. A woman with a sarcastic streak and a dry humor.
When the memory loss started, she could feign not caring. Oh, that? Why would I give a. …
Their mom doesn’t have many words left. Her tough exterior has dissolved. She has become softer. Sweeter. Sometimes she’ll make sounds or utter single words that seem to follow the thread of what her daughters are saying.
They remember one of her last sentences. The one she repeated over and over: I had five kids.
A few months ago, Amy and her husband returned to their home in Calgary. Amy wrote about the move in the zine before they went: “Our decision is based on all of the same things that led us to come here 2½ years ago, but this time with more of a focus on US first, and others next. …”
Ann followed, writing about her parents’ future without live-in help. She laid out four options. The last one: “Mary Poppins comes floating out of the sky and moves in, offering full-time care and love and attention to both of our parents.”
Their mom moved to a memory care unit in March.
"The time ahead will be the same, but different," Amy wrote in the next month's zine. "And we'll carry on knowing there is no one right way, trying our best not to compare, explain or justify, but carving a path for ourselves as gently as we can."
Amy and Ann are on the road this weekend, a three-day drive to Canada after Amy’s extended visit back in Lincoln.
The Tidball sisters will be working on “In It. A conscious zine for Alzheimer’s caregivers,” Issue 8, along the way.